Stephen Franklin

Stephen Franklin is a former labor writer for the Chicago Tribune and author of Three Strikes: Labor's Heartland Losses and What They Mean for Working Americans (2001).

Recent Articles

Why the Chicago Teachers Won

(AP Photo/Chicago Sun-Times, Brian Jackson)
(AP Photo/Chicago Sun-Times, Brian Jackson) Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis speaks at a rally at Daley Plaza in Chicago. Consider the battle of Chicago’s teachers as a lesson for what’s ahead as the same struggle winds its way away around the nation. For the nation’s beleaguered labor movement, the six-day strike by the Chicago Teachers Union that ended on Tuesday is proof that a strike is not suicide, as has been the fate lately for most unions. Indeed, as the end neared and they were heady with an apparent win, the teachers’ talk catapulted from standing up for teachers to standing up for organized labor and ultimately to speaking for bullied, and exploited workers. In the build up to the dispute, it didn’t seem likely that the union would be able to walk away. Not after the Illinois legislature required the union to win a strike vote by 75 percent of its members, and not after Mayor Rahm Emanuel fearlessly carried out a number of steps that only riled up the union. But...

Is Chicago the Next Wisconsin?

Whatever the outcome of the teachers' strike in the Windy City, it has big implications for the future of labor nationwide.

(AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)
(AP Photo/M. Spencer Green) Chicago public school teacher Michelle Harton walks a picket line outside Morgan Park High School in Chicago on the second day of a strike in the nation's third-largest school district. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanual and school officials say only so much money can be squeezed out for teachers’ salaries. More important, they want major changes to fix schools that they say are failing the city’s kids. On the other side of the table, the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) has its doubts about the finances and frets about protecting its rank and file. It especially doesn’t like the way charter schools are opening and public schools are closing, wiping out its members’ jobs. That’s the much-reduced nub of the dispute between the Chicago Teachers Union and city officials, which has drawn 26,000 teachers into the streets and thrown the nation’s third largest school system into a tizzy. Outside Chicago, you can find the same mega issues pumping up like storm clouds in school...

Before the Revolution

For the past half-decade, Egyptian workers, journalists, and bloggers have increasingly, and bravely, been standing up to their government.

After the policemen had sodomized the bus driver with a broomstick, and after one of the officers had sent a cell-phone video of the attack to other bus drivers in downtown Cairo to make clear that the cops could do as they pleased, and after someone had given the video to Wael Abbas, who posted it on his blog, something unusual happened -- at least, something unusual for Egypt. The video went viral on the Internet. Two officers were charged, convicted, and ultimately given three-year prison terms. It was an extraordinary moment, this sudden burst of justice back in 2006. Few have dared to point their fingers at police wrongdoing in Egypt. And it's even rarer that the culprits have been punished. The tumult that has rocked Egypt this winter was clearly sparked by the Tunisian revolution. But the Egyptian uprising didn't begin on Jan. 25. It was rooted in the waves of workers' strikes and protests; the explosion of the Internet as a rallying megaphone for dissent about government abuse...

The Hands That Feed Us

Some of the worst abuses are in food-processing and farming work -- where government is a huge purchaser.

(Flickr/jenmaiser)
Because so little has changed, her years in the fields seem to melt together. She works under abusive crew bosses and beside people who are sick but cannot take time off to get care. She works alongside youngsters less than 12-years-old, the U.S. legal limit for child labor, because some families need every hand to get by. Working from sunup to darkness without drinking water or a toilet nearby to relieve herself, she goes in the bushes, if there are any. "It's the same situation. There is no difference," says Florabeth de la Garza, resting at the end of the day's work in a sleazy, airless motel room in a southwest Michigan farm town. The room is just big enough for a bed. It's been twenty-three years since she first crossed the border from Mexico and slipped into the migrant stream. One of few possessions that she drags everywhere is a suitcase full of her diaries and photographs. They are her record of lives abused and broken in the fields. You would think that after many decades of...

Forgotten Corners of the Economy

As unemployment rises, the illegal treatment of day laborers only worsens. Where's the government?

Another dead day on the street corner and Gonzalo Mejia is wondering how he will get by. He's been finding work just one or two days a week lately. Worse yet, a contractor recently stiffed him out of $400 worth of pay. "All the time there is less work," grumbles Mejia, a short, muscular man in his mid-50s. His pals nod in agreement as they wait like hawks, ready to swoop down on the next contractor who pulls up. But it's well past 9 A.M., only three cars have trolled by in search of workers, and hardly anyone has budged off the street. Yet it is not just the disappearance of work that troubles him and the 150 or so men killing time at Milwaukee and Belmont, once Chicago's busiest street corner for day laborers. Everything has become so difficult, so frustrating, so dangerous. For workers with minimal protections against employers who steal from their wages or sometimes leave them dead or maimed, life has lately become bare existence. Before the housing bubble burst and the economy...